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April 26: The Boxer in Auschwitz

April 25, 2015

triumph-of-the-spirit-14Salamo Arouch, a champion Greek boxer who survived for two years in Auschwitz by boxing and defeating more than two hundred other prisoners for the entertainment and betting pleasure of their Nazi captors, died in Israel at 86 on this date in 2009. Arouch had been the middleweight champion of Greece (1938) and the Balkans (1939) — nicknamed “The Ballet Dancer,” he was undefeated with all twenty-four of his wins by knockout — when he arrived with his family at Auschwitz at age 20. His parents and three younger sisters were immediately killed, but once he was identified as a boxer, the Nazis set him to fighting, two or three times each week. The fighters would be lodged together and given extra food and/or lighter work loads; the losers would then be sent to the gas chamber or shot. Arouch resumed boxing after his liberation, moved to Palestine, and fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

“One of Mr. Arouch’s few opponents to survive the war was a onetime Polish Olympian who fought him in a blood-soaked bare-knuckle fight in the middle of the night. They had a tearful reunion almost 50 years later, when Mr. Arouch returned to Poland as a technical adviser to Robert M. Young, the director of Triumph of the Spirit, which was the first feature film to be shot on location at Auschwitz.” —Matt Schudel, The Washington Post

Update 4.27.15: We had an incorrect photo, now updated.